Universal Brotherhood – July 1899

RICHARD WAGNER'S PROSE WORKS: IV (1) — Basil Crump

VOL. I. THE ARTWORK OF THE FUTURE.

3. THE ART OF DANCE

Even more than her two sisters, Music and Poetry, has Dance lost her original lofty function in the Drama and become a degraded slave. Wagner brings this out very clearly. He says that Dance is the most realistic of all the Arts; the one through which Tone and Poetry are first understandable. Its law is Rhythm which is "the natural unbreakable bond of union between the arts of Dance and Tone." In union with her sisters Tone and Poetry, Dance held part of the high office of teacher. In her original purity as the poetry of motion she expressed to the eye the harmonies or discords of the inner soul. But as a separate art she quickly became debased, until today she has lost entirely her true mission and ministers only to pleasure and sensuality. Having drawn a vivid picture of this degradation, Wagner says:

"Today the only remaining individual dance is the national dance of the Folk." From it all the individual phenomena of modern dance have been taken — a process of copying, patching, mutilating, barren of creative power. Again is the Grecian Artwork referred to. What dance was in the days of Æschylus is now being demonstrated in the broad and educative work established by Katherine A. Tingley, who has founded the Isis League of Music and Drama in the Art Department of the Universal Brotherhood Organization. In her remarkable revival of the Eumenides performed at New York, Buffalo, and in the open air at Point Loma, there was seen, first, the sinuous threatening measures of the Furies about the unhappy Orestes, and then their graceful evolutions expressive of joy and beneficence when Athena soothes their anger and changes them to forces of light and love. What a picture, preaching a poetical sermon! After a form as nearly as possible resembling the Greek had been taught to the chorus by a professor of dancing, Mrs. Tingley took them in hand and introduced those touches which imparted life, soul, originality, and a wonderful beauty and depth of meaning to the whole conception. Without the aid of dance this drama would lose half its force and impressiveness.

THE ART OF TONE

Music has always been regarded as the most divine of all the Arts, able to make the most direct appeal to the soul. So here we find her called "the heart of man." A little thought will also convince us that "in Rhythm and Melody, ensouled by Tone, both Dance and Poetry regain their own true essence." Hence the music which is a true handmaid of drama is wholly governed by "the Measure of Poetry and the Beat of Dance."

In pursuing the career of tonal art after "the death of all-loving father, Drama" Wagner makes an interesting reference to Columbus: "Did his world-historical discovery convert the narrow-seeing national man into a universal and all-seeing Man; so, by the hero who explored the broad and seemingly shoreless sea of absolute Music unto its very bounds, are won the new and never dreamt-of coasts. And this hero is none other than, — Beethoven."

In the effort to "shape herself from out the exhaustless depths of her own liquid nature," Tone built up the many-colored structure of Harmony. "In the kingdom of Harmony there is no beginning and no end; just as the objectless and self-devouring fervor of the soul, all ignorant of its source, is nothing but itself, nothing but longing, yearning, tossing, pining — and dying out, i.e. dying without having assuaged 'itself in any object;' thus dying without death, and therefore everlasting falling back upon itself." Can we not recognize here a hint of the doctrine of Rebirth which Wagner declares elsewhere to be "the basis of a truly human life." Many years later this passage found dramatic expression in the 3d Act of Tristan and Isolde, where the wounded Tristan cries "Yearning, yearning, dying to yearn; to yearn and not to die" — "a passage," says Mr. Ellis, "which has more than any other been ascribed to Schopenhauer's influence, but which is almost a literal reproduction of the words used in the present instance." Similar keynotes to his dramas are found scattered through Wagner's prose writings, sometimes, as in this case, penned year before the drama itself was conceived and created. They are valuable as pointing the true inner meaning of the dramas and revealing some of the wonderful mental processes of great minds.

The rhythm which Tone had borrowed from Dance became condensed into the rules and canons of counterpoint. Thus Music became "her own direct antithesis; from a heart's concern, a matter of intellect." The soul of music lived in the Folk-Song (Volkslied) and even this was taken up by the opera writers and set to words entirely unrelated to its spirit. But in the hands of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven it breathed life and soul into the contrapuntal machinery of the Symphony. A few words from Wagner on each of these masters lead us to the apex of Music's separate career:

"In the symphony of Haydn the rhythmic dance-melody moves with all the blithesome freshness of youth. . . . This form of melody became the very element of the Symphony of song-abundant, and song glad Mozart . . . he lifted up the 'singing' power of instrumental music to such a height that it was now enabled, not only to embrace the mirth and inward still content which it had learnt from Haydn, but the whole depth of endless heart's-desire.

"It was Beethoven who opened up the boundless faculty of instrumental music for expressing elemental storm and stress." The pith of what follows is, that absolute music cannot by her own unaided powers portray the physical and ethical Man — "She lacks the Moral Will." In his C-minor
Symphony Beethoven "was able to raise the utterance of his music almost to a moral resolve, but not to speak aloud that final word." Then in the Symphony in A-major he gave us "the Apotheosis of Dance her self . . . And yet those happy dancers were merely shadowed forth in tones, mere sounds that imitated men! Like a second Prometheus who fashioned men of Clay (Thon) Beethoven had sought to fashion them of tone. Yet not from 'Thon' or tone, but from both substances together, must Man, the image of life-giving Zeus, be made. Were Prometheus' mouldings only offered to the eye, so were those of Beethoven only offered to the ear."

At last in the "Ninth (Choral) Symphony" the word he had been seeking bursts forth in a cry of brotherhood to all humanity: "The word that the redeemed world-man cries out aloud from the fullness of the world-heart. This was the word which Beethoven set as crown upon the forehead of his tone-creation; and this word was: — Freude! ('Rejoice!') With this word he cries to men 'Breast to breast, ye mortal millions! This one kiss to all the world.!' And this Word will be the language of the Artwork of the Future.

"The Last Symphony of Beethoven is the redemption of Music from out her peculiar element into the realm of Universal Art. It is the human Evangel of the art of the Future. Beyond it no forward step is possible: for upon the perfect Artwork of the Future alone can follow, the Universal Drama to which Beethoven has forged for us the key." His was in truth a dauntless and loving heart, that, in the evening of life, poor, solitary, deaf, misunderstood, could create this universal message and feel at one with all humanity.

From Beethoven it was Wagner himself who took the keynote, and as Tone-Poet established a higher Art.

THE POETIC ART

In giving a word picture of the trinity of arts — "Tanz-, Ton- und Tichtkunst" (Dance, Tone and Poetry). Wagner affords us a beautiful example of the old Stabreim or Staff-rhyme, of which he makes such extensive use in his "Ring" and "Tristan" poems. The short alliterative lines of this rhyme have a peculiar power, due, no doubt, to the fact that this style was invented by the ancient Bards and Teachers who no doubt knew the proper and forceful use of Tone and Speech. It is significant, too, that the remarkable Gypsy or Romany race of nomads use it in the songs and incantations they have employed in all ages in their processes for healing the sick, etc. Wagner found it far better adapted to the free style of his dramatic melody than the conventional poetic measures of the day, and its great superiority is seen at once if we take, for instance, a passage from Tannhauser, and compare it with one from The Ring of the Nibelung. In the former it will be found that the flow and accent of the lines is broken by the musical caesura, whereas in the latter the words and music blend in complete harmony. As a rich example of doubled and redoubled Stabreim, Mr. Ellis quotes Brunhilde's words at the end of the Ring poem:

Nicht Gut, nicht Gold.
Noch Gottliche Pracht;
Nicht Haus, nicht Hof.
Noch herrischer Prunk.

Such epics as the Odyssey and the Nibelungenlied appear to have been a literary piecing together of fragments of the original Folk-epics containing the traditional histories of the Universe and Man handed down from those divine teachers whose gigantic figures loom forth from the night of time. Hence we find in them all the same-basic truths.

But, says Wagner, "before these epic songs became the object of such literary care, they had flourished 'mid the Folk, eked out by voice and gesture, as a bodily enacted Artwork; as it were, a fixed and crystallized blend of lyric song and dance, with predominant lingering on portrayal of the action and reproduction of the heroic dialogue. These epic lyrical performances form the unmistakable stage between the genuine older Lyric and Tragedy, the normal point of transition from the one to the other." In a later essay in Volume II. called "Opera and Drama," this subject is more fully dealt with.

Of great interest also are the remarks on Shakespeare and his relation to Beethoven: "Shakespeare was indeed the mightiest poet of all time, but his Artwork was not yet the work for every age. . . . The deed of the one and only Shakespeare which made of him a universal Man, a very god, is yet but the kindred deed of the solitary Beethoven, who found the language of the Artist — manhood of the Future; only where these twain Prometheus — Shakespeare and Beethoven — shall reach out hands to one another; where the marble creations of Phidias shall bestir themselves in flesh and blood . . . there first, in the communion of all his fellow artists, will the Poet also find redemption."

In reviewing attempts made to re-unite the three humanistic arts, Wagner says that each art can thus step beyond its own bounds and find itself again — "but only in accordance with the natural laws of Love. As Man by love sinks his whole nature in that of Woman, in order to pass over through her into a third being, the Child — and yet finds but himself again in all the loving Trinity, though in this self a widened, filled, and finished whole; so may each of these individual arts find its own-self again in the perfect, thoroughly liberated Artwork." But in the spoken play poetry calls in the aid of Music merely for interludes or the enhancement of some particular effect, such as a piece of dumb action. Dance treats her in the same way. In the Opera and Oratorio, Music turns the tables and usurps the first place. Thus all loving, united effort to portray the truth is absent. The whole thing is on a selfish basis, and "only when the ruling religion of Egoism, which has split up the entire domain of Art into crippled, self-seeking art-tendencies and art-varieties, shall have been mercilessly dislodged and torn up root and branch from every moment of the life of man, can the new religion step forth of itself to life; the religion which includes within itself the conditions of the Artwork of the Future."

FOOTNOTE:

1. Translated by W. Ashton Ellis. London: Kegan Paul. (return to text)


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